Pine forests don’t belong in Southern Africa. Like countless other non-native plants and animals, pine trees were brought here by Europeans and continue to be cultivated on a large scale by paper and timber companies.

I’ve walked and driven through quite a few pine plantations in South Africa and Swaziland, and I usually find it depressing and disconcerting. The unnaturalness assaults my senses. It doesn’t help that the stands of tall pines are inevitably interspersed with barren hillsides dotted with jagged stumps, where trees have been recently been harvested. It’s the deadest African landscape you’ll ever see.

And yet, sometimes beauty hides in unlikely places. Late one autumn afternoon during a recent road trip to Swaziland, my friends and I stopped to take photos in a forest of gargantuan pine trees. On that particular day, at that particular time, those pine trees were magical.

The outer edge of the forest was typically devastating.

Life on one side, death on the other.

Under the trees, the aura changed. The three photographers among us scattered in different directions, each seeing the forest through our own lenses.

Can you spot my friend Mark? Can you spot me? Both of us are there.

I turned my camera upward at first.

Damn, those trees are tall.

I couldn’t get the shots I wanted from a standing position. So I laid right down on the pine needle floor and looked up.

My wide-angle lens makes the trees look even taller than they really are.

It was peaceful in there. I could barely hear the sound of cars passing on the highway. There were a few bird calls. I wonder what kinds of African birds adapt to living in pine forests?

I drew myself into a cross-legged position and looked out at the descending sun.

More wide-angle awesomeness.

Wide or tight, color or black-and-white: It was impossible to take an ugly photo of these trees.

If the height of the trees is any indication, this forest probably won’t be alive much longer. Soon it will be a wasteland like the field next to it, the massive logs hauled off to make newspapers. Maybe it’s even happened already — it’s been two weeks since our road trip.

But on that day, the forest was a beautiful living thing. I’m glad we stopped to visit it.

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